Women Who Travel

On a Trip to South Africa, I Finally Found a Sense of Home

“This was a time for reconnection with my ancestral land and its people,” writes DeAnna Taylor.
Thanda Safari
Thanda Safari

Sawubona, a greeting used by the Zulu people of South Africa to say hello. But the term is much more than just a warm welcome. It is also often understood and used to say, “I see you,” a sign of respect while acknowledging another’s presence.

During a recent trip to the country—my first since its reopening, but second visit overall—I certainly felt seen. From the moment I stepped off the plane and onto the rich soils of Johannesburg, I felt at home. Admittedly, I don’t know if my ancestors once inhabited South Africa, but I do know that regardless of the country they came from, Africa is my motherland.

Riding through Johannesburg’s busy streets, I experienced an instant sense of pride upon seeing men and women moving about their day. The joy radiating from their faces as they traveled to their respective destinations—whether it was work, school, or a restaurant to meet up with friends—instantly brought me joy as well. As a Black American woman, I always long to connect with my brothers and sisters on the continent, and as with so many of us, the global pandemic prevented me from doing so over the last few years. Then in February 2021, my mother passed away after a two-year battle with endometrial cancer—and as an only child, I have now found myself searching for communities and people that make me feel as ‘seen’ as she did. This was a time for reconnection with my ancestral land and its people. This visit was special.

Over the next 12 days, I traveled through Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town—and in each city was met with soul-piercing greetings of ‘hello my sister’ or ‘welcome home’ from locals. It may seem small, but for me, these simple acknowledgements were Sawubona personified. It was a way for my ancestors to let me know that I was home, and that I was okay.

I arrived in Durban—my first time visiting the coastal city—for the region’s Africa Travel Indaba, a multi-day conference that draws travel and tourism professionals from all around the continent and beyond. After only a few minutes walking through Durban’s International Convention Centre, I could see the global impact of Africa’s tourism sector.

Oftentimes, Africa tends to get lumped into one massive country—versus its 54 individual and unique nations. During the Indaba, a Zulu word meaning “business meeting,” my eyes were opened to not only the dozens of African nations represented, but also the hundreds of tour operators, hoteliers, and more working to share the continent’s beauty with the rest of the world. As I went to each table to meet with the representatives, hearing the way they proudly spoke of their respective business or destination helped strengthen my love and appreciation for each nation that made up the continent. Whether I was being introduced to the newest offerings from a small boutique hotel in South Africa or learning about how diverse Mozambique is as a country, I swelled with pride.

After Indaba, I was off to more remote parts of Kwazulu Natal, the province in which Durban lies, for an overnight safari and a visit with a Zulu elder. During the nearly one-hour car ride from Thanda Safari Lodge up into the mountains of Zululand, my thoughts raced as I prepared for the short meeting with the man and his family.

That meeting was the highlight of my trip. At 78, the man—with the help of a translator—spoke about the importance of respecting and honoring your parents and elders. He credited his long life to doing just that, and especially beamed when he spoke of his wife. For him, she was his everything. There was something about the couple’s own happiness that reminded me that it can be a choice. Happiness comes from being surrounded by love, showing love to others, and truly appreciating the things you have—big or small.

The conversation prompted me to sit back and reflect on my own life. While sometimes I feel like I should have a bigger home, be farther ahead in my career as a journalist, or even be married with children at the age of 37, I’m blessed. And for that, I’m happy. It reminded me to continuously show love to others, but also allowed me to see that, despite the current state of the world around me—from the global pandemic to losing my mother—I still had so much to be thankful for.

It was a much-needed homecoming. Not just for the adventures that it brought across those 12 days, but for the lessons it taught. So for that I say: South Africa, Sawubona. I see you, too.